Wenger: 'Two years ago we were battered but we are not bullied any more'

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The Independent Football

To describe the victory as the night Arsène Wenger's young team grew up from boys to men would be too melodramatic by far, but there was undoubtedly a perception that Arsenal took an important step with this confident and convincing victory over champions Chelsea.

The visit of Chelsea had in recent seasons become one of the barometers of their progress, a test of both physical strength and mental endurance that year on year they failed with alarming regularity. But with the champions on the wobble after their worst run of form for nearly a decade, Wenger saw his side take the initiative and then seize the opportunity to claim what could prove to be a seminal victory.

"We are not bullied any more. That is for sure," Wenger said after his side's 3-1 victory. "It's always very difficult to say because every game is different, but I feel we have matured over the last two years. Two years ago with the same players, we were maybe battered by Chelsea. Last year we felt we were getting closer. We were good in the challenges tonight. We've improved on that front. We have more 'mannish' dimension in our team in all the duels."

Wenger accepted the psychological benefit of the victory could be enormous for the squad, who came into the game having failed to win any of the previous 11 games in all competitions against their closest rivals Chelsea and Manchester United.

Without a trophy since the FA Cup in 2005, Arsenal were in danger of becoming a side that had forgotten how to win. Wenger said: "[Cesc] Fabregas said we were maybe scared to win. There was a strong word, but maybe there was something in it. We didn't see that tonight.

"I hope the victory tonight will convince the team that we are moving in the right direction and we continue to improve."

The victory moves Arsenal two points behind leaders Manchester United, but Wenger accepted the psychological benefits are just as important.

"It was a double impact. Mathematically, it keeps us in touch with the leaders of the league. And psychologically, it was important. We were questioned about our capability of winning big games," he said.

"I don't think we're very far. We're in December and in touch with Manchester United. We have to be at our best and continue to improve. Every game is difficult for everybody. We have to show we've got that out of our system and show we can be consistent."

The return of Fabregas to the Arsenal midfield was a key factor, eclipsing Frank Lampard's first start for Chelsea since August. The Spaniard, in his first game since the 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur a month ago, scored one and dominated the game, although he said the man of the match award should have been given to Theo Walcott, and not to him.

Fabregas described Arsenal's performance of being that of a "great team". He said: "Belief was the difference. The difference between a good team and a great team is very little. Today we were a great team. We were focused and had everything today. It was great to see."

Walcott's performance also earned the admiration of Wenger, who said: "It was probably one of his best games for us. I feel that he has improved and tonight he's given an assist and scored, and was always a threat. He gave us a balance tonight. He's one of the players we like to go to feet, and he runs behind without the ball."

Walcott said Arsenal "made Chelsea look average", adding: "Everything went well for us. We played some great football, and it was great to see. We've shown the fans what we can do."